I normally spend my day providing data science solutions to corporations or working with creators and advising them on how to build their own brands. In May, I decided to take on a new challenge and raise money for The Trevor Project, a nonprofit focusing on suicide prevention among LGBTQ+ youth. I discovered that a few people I love wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the nonprofit, and I had to give back.
We raised $165,000 for The Trevor Project by hosting a reality show with eight content creators. The first fundraising event of its kind, “The Tokelor” unlocked the power of TikTok creators and the platform’s growing popularity to spark collaborative partnerships among content creators who want to give back to their communities.
During the one-hour live stream, creators competed in a Bachelor-style competition to not only engage social media audiences, but encourage them to donate to The Trevor Project. To achieve this goal, we needed to mobilize our creators’ audiences and maximize the return on investment (ROI) on creator fees. Here’s how we did it.
How to maximize your ROI on creator fees
We knew the posts we asked our creators to publish wouldn’t help us meet our initial $50,000 fundraising goal alone. So, we applied these strategies to help us reach the largest number of followers and maximize their contributions:
1. Organize a competition-style campaign
We required each creator to donate a portion of their partnership fees to The Trevor Project. This was an excellent way to identify creators who actually cared about the cause.
Working with creators who truly cared about The Trevor Project were more authentic when promoting the event. Their followers were more likely to respond positively to the fundraiser, too.
These elements enabled us to launch a successful competition-style fundraiser, which was the first phase of the entire event. In the weeks leading up to The Tokelor, the creators were tasked with raising as much money as they could for The Trevor Project.
The creators’ empathy and competitive natures fueled each other to engage their audiences in a genuine manner to solicit donations. These posts were more valuable than any post we could have paid for, affirming the effectiveness of competition-style social media events.
2. Plan a photoshoot to gather quality content before your event
While organizing promotional materials for the event, we realized that the majority of the creators didn’t have high quality headshots. They were mostly TikTokers who created incredible content from their phones, and they never had a need for high resolution headshots until now.
We quickly realized that a photoshoot would be a great opportunity for us to elevate our promotional content and provide quality visuals to the creators. A photoshoot would also give the TikTokers a chance to develop rapport with us, and each other, ahead of the show.
We decided to fly everyone to Los Angeles for a day, rent two studios and hire three incredible photographers.
The shoot was a total success. Everyone got along and genuine friendships were formed. The content was better than I could have ever imagined and everyone left feeling excited about the event. Now, the creators were promoting the fundraiser non-stop.
3. Encourage creators to go live on TikTok and Instagram
The momentum from the photoshoot carried into the fundraiser itself, with creators partnering up and going live together on TikTok and Instagram. Several of them go live regularly, but they were even more active while partnering with their new creator friends.
The majority of the creators identify as LGBTQ+ and regularly field questions from younger audience members about their coming out experiences. These live social media streams were an incredible opportunity for the creators to promote the event, collect an incredible amount of donations, secure new followers and inspire people with their own personal stories and words of encouragement.
Takeaways to launch your own competition-style event with TikTokers
At the time, there wasn’t a template for this type of fundraiser. Working with TikTok creators can be a bit like shepherding cats, but ultimately, we organized a successful event and learned a lot in the process. The lessons we learned can be applied by any brand that wants to work with content creators.
Lesson: Larger audience sizes don’t always equal more engagement.
I’ve worked with content creators on brand deals in the past, but never had direct comparisons across such a diverse group of creators. Our creators specialized in a wide array of content types and boasted varying audience sizes. I was shocked to see how some of the smaller creators mobilized their audiences more effectively than their larger peers.
Lesson: TikTok isn’t as friendly to brand deals as other social platforms.
We primarily worked with TikTokers for this fundraiser. Most of our creators had large followings on TikTok and had varied success migrating their audiences to other social platforms.
Even though this was a fundraiser, it was apparent that the creators’ audiences viewed their promotional posts as a brand deal. A CPM (cost per thousand impressions) that a brand would pay for an Instagram audience would be wildly overvalued for a similarly sized TikTok audience.
Creators that were able to motivate a larger percentage of their audience to follow them across multiple platforms were by far the most valuable.
Lesson: Less is more when it comes to brand relationships.
Creators that effectively motivated their audiences rarely do brand deals. Creators who post a new product every day devalue their value to new potential brands. On the flip side, the creators who had longer term relationships with a smaller number of brands are much more valuable to potential partners.
Lesson: Not all creators are influencers.
Some creators aren’t as valuable for brand partnerships as others. Creators who cultivate followers based on their personalities, rather than generic dances or news stories, were the most effective in motivating their audiences. The most successful creators also had strong connections with their audiences, enabling them to raise the most amount of money.
Zo Asmail is the founder and managing director of Minionz, a technology and creator consulting company. He works with content creators to help them build direct-to-consumer brands and loyalty platforms. Asmail also works with larger brands to launch fundraising campaigns that resonate with diverse audiences. By organizing The Tokelor, a TikTok fundraising event that raised $165,000 for The Trevor Project, Asmail created a process for creators to mobilize their communities.